Carmen Maria Machado writes personally and politically about violence in queer relationships ★★★★ ☆


Carmen Maria MachadoPicture Getty

More than ten years ago, Carmen Maria Machado (1986) – not yet the famous author she would become a few years later – fell head over heels for a young, petite, white, thin woman, she In the dream house characterized as a ‘mix of butch and femme that drives you insane’. The love is mutual, and it was not obvious according to Machado, who says he belongs to the type of ‘chubby-to-fat brunette with glasses’ and describes himself as ‘an ethnically ambiguous fat woman in her mid-twenties’. She also has, she explains, a bad childhood with her. Her parents were strictly religious and quarreled a lot, she was bullied and assaulted, and during the time her peers were experimenting with each other, she was “busy being weird: praying a lot, being obsessed with sexual purity.”

No wonder the relationship with this butch-cum-femme is a dream come true for Machado. Her friend – whom she never mentions by name in this’ autobiographical dissertation ‘about their relationship – is sweet to her, and the sex is artful (‘ You’re both constantly wet. You fuck everywhere, it seems: on beds and tables and floors; on the phone “). Machado’s self-esteem gets a huge boost, but it’s short-lived. Her partner, she finds to her horror, also seems to have another side. In the craziest moments, she strikes out at her, screaming, arguing and humiliating her to the bone, not only by telling Machado what’s wrong with her, but also by forcing her to find out for herself what may be wrong with her. Machado’s (self) confidence is emptied as a punctured balloon and makes room for a gigantic sense of insecurity.

stubborn image

Why does she not end this destructive relationship right away? Why has she kept herself trapped in this hell for almost two years? Why is she silent all the time instead of discussing her situation with friends? Machado does not shy away from these questions, but she does not ask them primarily in the personal context of her life and her love. In the dream house is much more than an ego document, it is a book with a political mission. It wants to make visible something that, according to many, does not exist or should not exist: domestic violence in a relationship between two women. That is why she tells her story.

Machado is not the first to condemn and crush the ideal image of the lesbian relationship as a non-violent paradise. But the picture is persistent, even in herself, as she explicitly shows in the equally ironic and serious title of her book, which she also lets through in all the chapter titles (‘Droomhuis as a key moment’, ‘Droomhuis as a memorial palace’, ‘Dream house as a road trip to Savannah ‘, etc.).

A sense of betrayal

One of the reasons why it is difficult to let go of this image is that recognizing the possibility of violence in queer relationships feels like a betrayal because it would weaken the position of a group that is seen as different in a still- straight-normative society dominated society. Queer people need good PR, according to Machado, “to fight for the rights we do not have, to keep the rights we have.” But, she adds almost desperately, “are we not trying to say that we are like you all the time?”

Machado still celebrates this sharply torn consciousness in the word of thanks with which she In the dream house close. The last words in it are to her wife Val, whom she describes as “my plot twist, my fate, my adventurous ending.” It is deep, the belief in paradise.

Carmen Maria Machado: In the dream house. Translated from English by Ineke van den Elskamp. cossee; 311 pages; € 24.99.

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